CM . . .
. Volume XI Number 9 . . . .January 7, 2005
The expulsion of the French Acadians from Nova Scotia by the British conquerors, beginning in 1755, is an event that still resonates through Canadian history. Le Grand Derangement resulted in families being torn apart, never to see one another again. It resulted in a new culture, notably the Cajuns of Louisiana, and a new dialect of French. It created a sense of loss and longing that has been kept alive in song and poem for more than two centuries.
Smoke Over Grand Pre is an attempt to teach adolescents about the life of the French settlers along the marshes of the Bay of Fundy, their relationship with the native people, and how they struggled to survive under the British. The settlers had arrived as early as 1605 and had created a unique community and culture, separated from the homeland and Quebec, but French nevertheless. When the Seven Years War began, the British demanded that the Acadians take an oath of allegiance. The settlers refused; their property was seized, and they were forcibly expelled. Although they were allowed to return in 1764, their lands had been occupied by British New Englanders. The Acadians were not allowed to congregate in larger settlements, and so they took up farming in more remote coastal areas.
This novel, first published in 1983, details the complex political situation, the alliances between different native groups both with the British and the Acadians, and how some people played both sides of the fence for their own benefit. The different attitudes that prevailed are represented in the different characters. Much of the detail of everyday life is also included.
The authors create a typical family situation where allegiances are strong, where people struggle to make a living under occupiers who threaten their very lives on a daily basis, and where walking in the woods can cost a life. Tension builds as the British pursue the rebels, as money is awarded for scalps, as the local priest foments rebellion in a group of people who have little else but shovels to fight against guns. The Mi'kmaq (now called the Migmaw) tribe sided with the Acadians, the Mohawk with the English.
The authors are to be commended for their efforts to present a historical novel without bias. Not only do they present the native tribes in the context of the situation in which they were caught, but even show that the British soldiers were not all "bad," as Colonel Winslow expresses disgust at what he has been ordered to do.
A glossary at the end of the book explains the role of each historic figure named in the story. An informative introduction would better set the stage for most readers to understand the plot. Nowhere do the authors actually tell the reader that the Acadians were expelled and where they went.
For this and other reasons, the plot is overly complicated for the casual reader. In the authors' effort to educate the reader thoroughly, the alliances and political intrigues become confusing, the detail becomes overwhelming and the "typical" conversations are forced. One can only presume that the largest part of the reading audience for this book comes from Nova Scotia or Acadian descent and is already apprised of the historical context. This novel will appeal to those youth who know more about the Acadians and The Expulsion or to readers with the patience to sort out the various individuals. It can be used as part of a teaching unit to illustrate this period in Canadian history.
Sentiment over the loss of their homes and loved ones is a recurrent theme in Acadian culture. That is reflected in this book which contains passages that are reminiscent of writing of previous generations.
Although the feeling is understood, melodramatic passages such as that will not likely appeal to today's youth, especially boys who should be attracted to the adventure and intrigue in the story.
Recommended with Reservations.
Harriet Zaidman is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.